Watson Coleman Urges Opposition to Mercer County Purchase of Armored Vehicle
Washington, D.C. (September 11, 2019) — Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman sent a letter to the Mercer County Board of Freeholders urging opposition to the pending purchase of an armored vehicle for the county’s police force.
“Over the past few decades, police departments nationwide have slowly succumbed to the trend of militarization, aided by destructive programs that have allowed police forces of every size to obtain equipment built for warfare, not keeping our communities safe,” the letter reads. “I urge you to vote against approving the purchase of any equipment that would bring these issues to Mercer County.”
Recent reports indicate that the freeholder board will consider on Thursday whether to approve the $300,000 purchase of an armored vehicle. Watson Coleman has spent much of her career working toward criminal justice reform, including pushing for community policing models that reduce the impact of bias and rates of violence experienced by people of color at the hands of police.
September 11, 2019
Dear Freeholder [Name]
Over the past few decades, police departments nationwide have slowly succumbed to the trend of militarization, aided by destructive programs that have allowed police forces of every size to obtain equipment built for warfare, not keeping our communities safe. From camouflage uniforms, to the use of armored vehicles, the visual impact of these tools on the communities that officers serve are both disruptive and damaging, sowing distrust and fear. The mindsets that often come with these tools are worse. I urge you to vote against approving the purchase of any equipment that would bring these issues to Mercer County.
The 1033 Program, first authorized in a time when the War on Drugs led to the approval of dozens of permanently destructive policies that we have yet to fully address, has led to billions of equipment meant for war. The now pervasive idea that every police force needs tools like this — even when they come at cost to the communities they serve — is problematic. Worse, it uses resources on tools that won’t help officers do their most important job – actually policing their communities. In fact, recent research has indicated that both the tactics and tools of militarized policing show minimal payoff for either the safety of officers or the communities they serve.
In addition to the difficult community relations that this purchase could cause, Mercer County already has such vehicles nearby. As the home of the New Jersey State Police located in Mercer County, comparable vehicles are available nearby to assist in the event of an emergency.
I have spent decades fighting for criminal justice reform, including the reform of policing. Only recently have we begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel, as communities stand up to policing models that do nothing for safety and, in contrast, risk unnecessary interactions and violence. There is a national, grassroots push to refocus local policing on a community-focused model. Arming officers with tools like these vehicles take us away from that important path.
Local law enforcement, including the officers that serve Mercer County, are not members of our nation’s military. It should follow that they don’t need the same tools that our military uses. I hope that you will vote against the purchase of this vehicle, and any other tools of war.